There was a time when decision makers scoffed at the notion of social networking at work, most believing it to be little more than a novel way to spend precious business hours. Today, most businesses have embraced the resource and see it as a credible, cost effective business tool – if used strategically.

Managed ICT service experts believe we have only just begun to realise the benefits of social networking in the corporate space.

“The fact is that we are only starting to realise the power and potential that exists within the application of the Internet and social networking to communicate to markets,” says Lance Fanaroff, joint CEO at the Integr8 Group, South Africa’s largest privately owned managed service provider.

But Fanaroff concedes that social networking must be regulated for it to be a boon to business.

More companies are securing presence on social networks and organising fan pages and groups. It is a specialised form of marketing that leverages off the principle of attracting and mobilising the support of like-minded individuals.

It takes ‘in-your-face’ marketing to a new level and is based extensively on an aggressive approach to reach target markets and customers.

He says that major enterprises are now employing people whose chief responsibility is to monitor activity related to the business across all social network feeds – including Facebook, Twitter etc.

Fanaroff says this presence is important and is considered to be a primary step in any credible digital strategy. However, one of the reasons why people are employed to manage this area of communication is because of the impact and affect that negative activity can and does have on a brand or corporate image.

“Negative statements and comments can last a long time on social networks. They can affect brand image and the bottom line. It is for this reason that companies must regulate what is posted,” adds Fanaroff.

Another emerging trend concerning social networking in the workplace is in terms of recruitment.

Decision makers are using social networks to find out more about the character of candidates.

They are reviewing sites like Facebook to learn more about what people are like and whether or not they would be a ‘good fit’ for the business.

Face it. Don’t fear it

Looking ahead Fanaroff says that social networking will become more relevant and significant to business and attract even more followers.

He believes Facebook will grow in dominance and stature and remain the leading contender amongst offerings. Although celebrities and other interest groups are dabbling in creating their own individual social network offerings, these are very much in their infancy and are niche, specialist projects compared to the likes of Facebook.

Businesses are likely to develop their strategies in accordance with this growth and also improve their positioning to take advantage of the opportunities.

“In the US if you walk into certain shops or retailers and you register as a fan of the business on Facebook or other social networking site, you automatically qualify for a discount. That is using the power of social networking to build business and meet client’s needs immediately and cost-effectively,” adds Fanaroff.

In South Africa, despite the challenges of access to technology, bandwidth and communication tariffs, the future looks bright and social networking has a very definite role to play in bridging the digital divide he continues.

“Right now social networking sites are helping people to develop their technical literacy levels and acquire very important skills sets,” says Fanaroff.

Whether the predictions prove true or not, management at Integr8 is adamant that social networking represents an exciting growth and development – one that has revolutionised the workplace and looks set to stay.